_A Shot of Faith To The Head_: Bad Title, Great Book: Part 2: “Science Has Shown There is No God”
An official statement from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences:
“Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.”
Question: Can you deal with the neutrality of this?
The Center of the Universe
The alleged war between science and faith is “largely concocted”, says Stokes, by both atheists and theists who are abusing science, religion, or both. He takes us back to Copernicus, or rather, Galileo via Copernicus, for an example of this. Most people are familiar with the story that way back in the day scientists said the earth was round and went around the sun, and that Christians said that was wrong, which just goes to show you that religion is stupid and science is smart. This is a horrible myth surrounding a series of debates that historically ran very differently than our mythic memory.
The debate with Galileo about the sun and earth had nothing to do with Christianity disagreeing or agreeing with science. It was really about academic politics, text interpretation, and philosophical schools. See, the Catholic Church had a long history of admiring the legacy of Aristotle, one whose logical skills were used to teach many then current beliefs. The model of the sun at the center of the solar system clashed not with scripture, but with Aristotle. This was at the center at the conflict. A small part of this debate was over whether the sun “literally” stood still in the Bible, or if this was a figure of speech. People on both sides of the argument believed in scripture; they were trying to figure out how to interpret. So the question was this: Does the Bible literally suggest in this one passage that the sun moved around the earth, or were the writers, guided by the Holy Spirit, communicating to people of antiquity in a cosmic world view they understood? Stokes points out that in this debate everybody saw the exact same evidence. Aristotle was a pagan, and his model of the solar system was earth-centric. Galileo didn’t care for Aristotle and was bold enough to base his model off of newfound evidence. Galileo was a scientist and a devout Christian; his accusers were also devout Christians, but they weren’t scientists. Neutralize the faith aspect and what you get is old science versus new science. In reality, this was just another scientific debate that changed the way people saw science, and the Bible just happened to be brought into the debate, but in an irresponsible way, as it sometimes is for Christians. What this event really tells us is that philosophers should not be in charge of scientific discoveries. Whether they are Christians has little to do with it, so long as they are not the kind of Christians who don’t know when the Bible is speaking literally. The Galileo conflict reflects poorly on the Jesuits and the Pope during his day, but what it reflects is the politics of academia, not the nature of religion.
[see the previous post about apologetic defense and argumentation.]
“I can’t explain it. Therefore, God?”
It’s one of the weaker reasons we give for God. There’s something in nature we can’t explain, and every time that happens, we just say, “must be God.” The problem comes when we figure those things out, which may lead us to conclude we don’t need God. Stokes maintains that God is not a “God of the gaps”, but a God that created all nature, and “continually sustains and governs it”. The laws of nature are not things, but descriptions of rational patterns in nature, patterns that we can rationally understand. Miracles, by definition, are when God interrupts the normal pattern. Miracles are not merely times when God did things people couldn’t explain yet, but did things that everyone knew never normally happened (resurrection, walking on a stormy lake, feeding 5,000 people with a basket of fish and bread). We should not ” use God” to explain processes we don’t understand, but rather understand that God is is the why to the processes we can explain, but can’t account for the existence of, a God who can set aside the rules if he wishes, but also maintains them.
“It Looks Designed”
Like the above argument, many atheists mock Christians for allegedly saying, “man, it sure looks like somebody built this world because I just don’t get it. Must be a God.” The thing is, most atheists also agree that this world looks designed. The real debate is over why it appears designed. We need to understand then, that saying the universe looks designed in itself isn’t a persuasive argument. We have to show why it looks designed, why it looks finely tuned, to show the reality of God. Otherwise, we are telling people to judge by appearances. To be honest, it’s like this: Someone draws a gun on you and tells you to pick a number between 1 and 8 million. If you get the wrong number, he kills you. You happen to guess the right number, and live. Now, it looks like God was watching over you, because your chance of living was 1 in 8 million. But that’s still chance. It doesn’t prove God gave you luck or something. You have only proven that it appears you had God looking out for you. To a naturalist, you just happened to pick that one number in a million, and that killer could have killed hundreds of other people by the same test. You being the one to live doesn’t prove God was watching over you. It only suggests so because from where you are standing, you were incredibly lucky for surviving.
Stokes says we tend to resort to this argument because science has become invested only in the facts, not the why. So in reasoning with scientific atheists we sometimes stop at why the world looks designed. But here is where we must show that philosophical naturalists have trapped themselves. Philosophical naturalists maintain that there is nothing beyond the physical world. They therefore cannot provide an explanation as to why the earth looks designed, why there is a match between the appearance and our perception of that appearance. In order for science to work, it has to assume that there is a designer, because the pursuit of science is grounded in the idea that the universe has laws and order, and that we are designed to understand that law and order. If you believe there is only the physical, you cannot account for the “fit” between the rationally designed world and our rationally designed faculties that can comprehend this world.
But that’s where you begin to admit where science cannot go. Science does have it’s boundaries. We must, therefore, reason where those boundaries are and accept where they are. God’s existence, then, cannot be directly observed in the normal world, but it can be inferred as a viable hypothesis, (and confirmed by special revelation accompanied by miraculous intervention, which we then believe by faith). If that sounds far-fetched to an atheist, imagine trying to explain to a Creationist how we can hypothesize that matter arose ex nihilo without aid of a being outside of the laws of the cosmos. No human ever has observed or ever will observe the origin of the natural world. What we believe is believed by faith on some level, no matter what it is we believe.
So what is central to what we believe?
Math. I know, I shuddered too. Math was my least favorite subject. But what I do appreciate about math is that it is always true and that it’s everywhere. One plus one is two whether I do the math right or wrong, and it is there before I discover it. Stokes demonstrates how the Scientific Revolution of Newton and other thinkers was founded on the idea that God made the world and it was mathematically ordered, so that everything observable could be reasoned with math. Plato and Pythagoras could also be tossed into this. Since there is no natural explanation for the universe being mathematically reasonable and understood by us as mathematically reasonable, there must be a designer who transcends this world. There is no better explanation.
The Reluctant Supernaturalist: It’s all about the numbers
Enter Plato’s theory of Forms. This was the grand finale for me, mathematically and scientifically. Plato articulated the idea that there are forms, these “things” that are not things, but virtues of things. Redness is a form. Circularity is a form. In order to call things circular, you have to have a non-physical “noun” called circularity, or even circle, that cannot be touched or sensed. It has to exist in the non-physical world, as an idea, as a concept, as a true thing that we can’t argue against, something that exists, as the ancients said, “in the heavens”. This answers that question we visited at the beginning, of how our language can refer to things that don’t exist. They do exist, just not physically. This is where numbers and letters magically meet, my favorite academic world and my least favorite. “Our linguistic ability is actually some of the most neglected evidence for design,” says Stokes, and as a studier of language, I would agree. Both our symbols of words and of numbers eventually symbolize things that don’t physically exist.
For example, does 3 exist? Yes. But where? Oh, I have 3 apples. But how do I know I have 3? Once again, back again to the question of what 3 is. 3 is not a thing we came up with (symbols for 3 we have, but not the essence of 3 itself, not the very thing the symbol “3” stands for). If there were no sentient beings on this earth, 3 apples in a meadow would still be 3 apples, so 3 exists independent of our thought. Mathematical objects exist, and they do not reside in the physical realm. You cannot touch, smell, taste, see, or hear the number 3, but only symbols that represent it. And yet numbers, like 3, are the very foundation of science, because they are true whether we observe them or not.
Of course, the same can be said for any non-physical thing we describe using language as well. Ultimately, there are things we are signing when we speak and write that are physical symbols for non-physical things, things that existed before us, and exist independent of us, yet are not physical objects. “In the beginning was the word…”
So if you believe in science, you honestly have to believe in something outside the natural cosmos. Pair this with our observation that this world is rational, and that we seem designed to observe and understand this rationality, and the most viable hypothesis is “Creator Theory”. By this I mean the mere theory that the cosmos came to be as a result of the will of a non-physical being of pure virtue, pure “idea”. For now, forget any debates about the process or the time it took for that process, and how science versus traditions of biblical interpretation agree or disagree. The kernel of “creationism” is merely this one fact:
The cosmos was created by a creator.
[In our next post: Does the “problem of evil” disprove God?]